Tuesday 1 April 2014

Beautiful Day by Kate Anthony ~ Review & Author Interview

Today is the day that things are going to change for Rachel Bidewell. 
She will walk through the doors of Clifton Avenue Care Home and start a new life. 
Rachel is returning to work. And as she discovers, juggling a new job, three children and an ex husband can feel like drowning. 
Someone needs to throw her a lifeline... 
Philip doesn't seem like an obvious lifesaver. He has just lost the one person who ever cared for him and, even as an adult, he doesn't know how to live in the real world. 
But might Philip and Rachel each have something the other needs? 
This is a story of unexpected friendship; of the messy, muddy territory of those broken by life - and what it takes to fix them. It reminds us that the very darkest of days can be funny, heart-warming and even beautiful. 
Rachel finds hope in the places she least expects in Kate Anthony's stunning first novel, Beautiful Day.

Beautiful Day is the debut novel from Kate Anthony, and is published by Penguin on 10 April.

The cover art for Kate Anthony's Beautiful Day is absolutely gorgeous, add the enticing blurb on the back of the book and this has the potential to be the most wonderful of reads.

It is!  That old well-worn cliche really does apply to Beautiful Day, I honestly did resent having to put it down for even a moment, and if it had been possible, and I had no work to do I would have sat and read the whole thing from cover to cover.

Rachel's life has gone completely and utterly belly up.  Her husband and father of her three children has left, found himself a younger model. The children are not coping too well; there's bed-wetting and angry outbursts to cope with.  The live-in au pair is useless and Rachel is about to start working for first time in ages.

The Clifton Avenue Care Home is a residential home for adults with special needs, and Rachel is quickly allocated as key worker to new resident Philip.   Philip has led a sad, lonely life with his elderly mother.  He has no social skills, very little speech, smells a bit ripe and his toenails resemble cheese and onion crisps.  Despite this, and despite Rachel's chaotic personal life, they form a bond.  Rachel also forms a bond with deputy-manager Rob, a guy who wears his trousers so short that it is almost ironically fashionable, but also wears his heart on his sleeve - unlike some of the other staff in the home.

Rachel's home life spirals out of control a little bit more each day and it is only her loyal and dedicated mother-in-law, and her work at Clifton Avenue that keeps her sane ..... just.  Battling with her feelings around her ex husband and his new woman, whilst trying to protect her children from further harm, her own welfare comes a long way down on her list of priorities.

Beautiful Day is an accomplished and quite elegant debut novel, written with authority and flair, it is clear that the author has a wealth of experience in social care.  The character of Philip is so perfectly created, his sadness and vulnerability scream out from the pages, yet he can still make the reader chuckle at times.  Some would say that Rachel is a bitter and angry woman, indeed the author comments on just that in her interview at the back of the book.  I like Rachel. I think she has every right to rant and to rage and to be angry at the world.  OK, at times she can be a little harsh with her children, but I doubt that there are many of us who could keep it all together, at all times in similar circumstances.

Rachel's ex-husband Dom is a fool. I hated him, he's superior and patronising and an idiot. His young lover Deborah was welcome to him in my eyes.  Towards the end of the story, Rachel writes a letter to Deborah outlining her feelings, about Dom, about Deborah and about herself. This letter is the real Rachel, the person underneath the harassed, miserable and quite vulnerable lady in the rest of the book. The letter, and Rachel's wonderful relationship with resident Philip shows just how strong and kind and caring Rachel really is.

This is a novel that deals with many issues, but is never complicated.  The break down of a marriage, and the effect on the children and wider family. The social services system and what can go wrong, but also how repairing it can be with the right staff who are there for the right reason. It's also a journey for Rachel, a chance for her to discover who she really is, and to find that she's more than just a wife or a mother, and that she's a person of worth in her own right.

A warm and poignant story, well written with humour and with grace. A story that deals with difficult, often complex issues in a sensitive and realistic way.

My thanks to Francesca from Penguin who sent my copy for review.

Kate Anthony grew up in the Midlands. On graduating, she began working as a residential social worker firstly with young offenders and later with vulnerable adults. She then joined the BBC, working as a producer in comedy for some years before moving to an independent production company as a drama producer. She lives close to Brighton with her family.

For more about Kate: @KateLAnthony

I'm really thrilled to welcome the author, Kate Anthony here to Random Things today.  Kate has answered a few questions:

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  It’s early days and aBeautiful Day is a debut novel I’ve only had one review so far and I read that with my teeth clenched and through half-shut eyes.  Fortunately it was a good one! I’ll definitely read future reviews and would like to think that I’ll be thick-skinned enough to take what is constructive from any bad ones and move on, but in reality I’ll probably be a nervous wreck. 
How long does it take to write a novel?     ‘Beautiful Day’ took me about three years to write, my second book has taken much less time than that.  With Beautiful Day’ I was writing as a secret pleasure and so had to focus on it in short, sharp, guilty bursts at strange hours.  Now I am writing full-time, I would hope to finish a book in a year to eighteen months but I should imagine everyone is different.
Do you have any writing rituals? I write in the library and always head straight to the café when I arrive to purchase a cup of tea and a banana.  If the café is closed or for some reason bananas are off the menu, I get twitchy and worry my stomach will start to groan at around eleven, and I’ll get black looks from my fellow workers.  I can of course always have an apple or an orange or on a really throw caution to the wind day, a piece of toast or a croissant, but it’s a banana that really sets me up.
What was your favourite childhood book? 'Ponda and William’ by Barbara Softly – I’ve just Googled it to check that I remembered the author’s name correctly and seeing the cover has made me go all wobbly and nostalgic.  Ponda is in fact a panda and he is William’s pyjama case.  However, when William visits his Cousin Winifred, Ponda comes alive and he and William take part in all sorts of adventures from kite flying to hedgehog chasing.  My mother used to read the book aloud to my sister and me when we were very little.  We still have our ancient copy at home but now it’s all yellow and faded and the front cover is hanging on by a thread, but it is a family treasure.
Name one book that made you laugh? That’s a very hard question as it’s almost impossible to name only one. I remember being asked to read a passage from ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell, aloud to the class when I was about twelve.  The teacher thought I was being silly because I couldn’t stop laughing and told me to sit down.  I remember feeling mortified and hard done by, because I had genuinely found it utterly hilarious.
A grown-up book would be ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ by Lissa Evans.  The character of Ernest Hilliard, a washed up old ham from the silent movies, now being asked to act in films made by The Ministry of Information in the 1940’s, is one of the most perfect comic creations I have ever encountered.
Name one book that made you cry? 
‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ by John Irving had me wiping my mascara off my chin.  I read it in one sitting and felt utterly pole-axed at the end of it.  For a while it became the book that I would casually lend to prospective boyfriends and if they didn’t like it I knew we were doomed.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?I would like to meet Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff to discover whether he was in fact the ultimate romantic hero who I fell in love with when I was about seventeen; knee-tremblingly handsome, a force of nature, untamed and passionate, wild and charismatic.  Or, if he was ultimately a bit of a git who ruined everyone’s lives and killed puppies.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? She’s just had a baby so it would have to be ‘Dazzling Diggers’ by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker.  I think every parent has that one book they’ve read so many times they could recite it word for word on their deathbed.  Mine is ‘Dazzling Diggers.’  We had a bookshelf aching with children’s books given to us when my first son was born, and all he wanted to read any time of the day or night, was ‘Dazzling Diggers.’   You couldn’t skip any pages; you couldn’t alter one word or even read it in a different way to the way he was banking on.  I remember being ecstatic on the day he moved onto ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’ by Virginia Lee Burton, but today if I ever stumble across a copy of ‘Dazzling Diggers’ I whimper.
Oh, I’d also give her a copy of ‘Beautiful Day’ to add to the other hundred copies she has pre-ordered from Amazon at gunpoint.
Are you inspired by any particular author or book? Bernard MacLaverty is probably the author that I go back to most often.  I was given the new version of his collected stories for Christmas so now I have it next to my bed.  I recently re-read his short novel ‘Lamb.’  I was almost scared to return to it after a number of years, in case it wasn’t as powerful as I remembered.  I need not have worried – I found it as deeply affecting as I had done the first time I read it, if not more.  His short stories are so deft and constructed with such skill, that on a good day they leave me inspired, and on a bad one ready to jack the whole thing in.
What is your guilty pleasure read?    If I’ve had a truly terrible day and am lolling in the bath with my brain turned to muesli, I will seek out a Harry Potter.  I know the stories so well having read them to the children when they were young, listened to the spoken word tapes for hours in holiday traffic jams, and seen the films not only in the cinema, but on DVD and television.  However, I always enjoy reading a couple of my favourite chapters.  I also have a weakness for ‘Anne of Green Gables.’  Alternatively, I find a copy of ‘Heat’ that one of my nieces might have left behind and read that cover to cover and hope nobody walks in.
Who are your favourite authors? 
An eclectic list and in no particular order I’ve gone for a Top Twenty: Yohan Mistry, Colm Toibin, Khaled Hosseini, The Bronte Sisters, Jane Austen, Philip Pulman, Hilary Mantel, Thomas Hardy, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Barbara Trapido, Hilary Boyd, Joanna Trollope, Anthony Trollope, Daphne du Maurier, Lissa Evans, John O’Farrell, Evelyn Waugh and John Steinbeck.
When I read this back I will think of another thousand people who I've left off the list and kick myself.
What book have you re-read? James Joyce ‘The Dubliners’ is a book I have re-read again and again.  I had a very good teacher who guided me through it when I was a useless sixteen year old and tried to make each short story resonate with my own experiences.  I re-read ‘Counterparts’ the other day, the tale of a sad, lumbering bully of a man, who takes his frustrations out in the pub and on his young son.  It was a story that didn’t stand out to my younger self and yet I found it almost too painful to read.  That is why it is a book that needs reading and re-reading because every time you return to it you find something completely new.  The final story of the collection ‘The Dead’ is my favourite.
My son has just pointed out that I’m re-reading John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ at the moment to keep him company as he has to read it for school.  It is also one of my favourite all-time books because it is just so bloody brilliant.
What book have you given up on?‘Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt – not because I didn’t like it but because it is so damn heavy I can’t chuck it in my handbag and read it on the train.  Also, I’ve yet to meet anybody who didn’t love it and I’m beginning to worry that I won’t and then I’ll have to go and live in a cave.

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one too Anne and the author was kind enough to stop by and comment. I think she has a great ability in her writing and hope this is the first of many.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net